From Lucian’s Wonderland, being a Translation of the ‘Vera Historia,’ by St J. Basil Wynne Willson, M. A., illustrated by A. Payne Garnett; Edinburgh and London: Blackwood and Sons; 1899, pp. 79-117.
THE ISLAND OF THE BLEST — ITS WONDERFUL JOYS — HEROES AND FAMOUS MEN — THE THIRD
ABDUCTION OF HELEN.
ROCEEDING on our way through a fair flowering meadow, we fell in with the guardians of the place, who bound us with garlands of roses, their strongest form of bonds, and led us to the King.
As we went, we learned that the island was called the Island of the Blest, and that it was under the sovereignty of Rhadamanthus the Cretan.93
RHADAMANTHUS.We were brought before him, and our case came fourth in order of those for trial that day.
The first was concerning the right of Ajax,1 son of Telamon, to join the number of the Heroes.
The accusation preferred against him was that he was a madman and a suicide. At length, after prolonged pleading, Rhadamanthus gave sentence that for the present he should be intrusted to the care of Hippocrates, the physician of Cos,2 to undergo a course of hellebore;3 but that afterwards, when he had regained his reason, he should be admitted to partake of the banquet of the Heroes.
The second was a love affair, a quarrel between Theseus and Menelaus concerning Helen, with which of the two she ought to live.4 Rhadamanthus’ decision was that she should live with Menelaus, seeing that he had 94 endured so many hardships and dangers by reason of his marriage. Moreover, Theseus himself had other wives — Antiope the Amazon, and Ariadne the daughter of Minos.
The third trial concerned a question of precedence between Alexander the Great and Hannibal the Carthaginian. This was decided in favour of Alexander, and a throne was assigned to him next to Cyrus the elder, King of Persia.
Our case came fourth on the list. Rhadamanthus inquired of us how we dared to invade the holy spot whilst still living, and we related to him all our adventures. Thereupon he had us removed, and deliberated at length on the case with his numerous assessors, amongst whom was Aristides the Just, of Athens. The decision at which they arrived was that after death we should render an
GOLD.95 account for our bold curiosity in sailing thither, but that for the present we should remain a fixed time of not more than seven months on that island, and associate with the Heroes, and at the expiration of this period we should depart. Thereupon our flowery bonds fell off of their own accord, and we were conducted to the banquet of the Blest.
The city is all of gold, and the wall surrounding it is of emerald. There are seven gates, each of a single trunk of cinnamon. The pavement and streets of the city are of ivory. The temples of the gods are of beryl, and contain great altars of solid blocks of amethyst, whereon they sacrifice hecatombs. Round the city flows a river of purest oil, in breadth a hundred royal cubits, and of such depth that a man can easily swim therein. For bathing-places they have large chambers 96 of glass heated with logs of cinnamon. The baths are filled with hot dew instead of water.
By way of clothing, the inhabitants use fine purple spider-webs.
They have no bodies, but are fleshless and impalpable, displaying merely form and shape without substance. Yet, bodiless as they are, they can stand, move, and speak, and possess all the senses. In short, their soul seems to be going about naked, wrapped in the semblance of a body. At any rate, except by touch one would never discover that what one saw was not a body. They are, in fact, upright shadows, only not black.
No one grows old, but remains at whatever age he may have reached at the time of his death.
They have no night there, nor bright day,
BLISS.97 but the country lies in the grey twilight of dawn.
They know but one season in the year, perpetual spring, and no wind but the gentle zephyr.
The region abounds in all kinds of garden flowers and shady shrubs. The vines bear twelve times in the year, yielding fruit every month, whilst the mulberry, the apple, and all other trees were said to bear thirteen times — twice in the month of Minos.
Instead of grain the crops produce in the ear loaves ready for eating, like mushrooms.
Round the city flow three hundred and sixty-five streams of water and a like number of honey, and five hundred, somewhat smaller, of sweet oil. There are seven rivers of milk and eight of wine.98
The banquet is spread outside the city in the spot called the Elysian Plain, a meadow very fair, and surrounded by thick woods containing trees of all kinds, that afforded shade to the feasters beneath. Couches are strewn with flowers.
At each table the winds act as attendants and distribute the food, but do not serve the wine; for of this service there is no necessity, inasmuch as encircling the festal board grow large trees of clearest crystal, whereof the fruit is cups of every shape and size. Every guest that comes to the banquet plucks one or more of these vessels and places them by his side, and immediately they become full of wine. Such is their manner of drinking.
In place of garlands, the nightingales and other melodious birds gather flowers in their
THE ELYSIAN FIELDS.
CHOIR.bills from the neighbouring meadows and shower them down upon the banqueters, flying overhead and singing as they fly.
Their method of perfuming themselves is as follows: thick clouds draw up sweet oil from the springs and rivers and float over the feast; under the gentle breath of the wind they drop a fine dewy rain.
At the meal they are beguiled with music and songs, especially the poems of Homer, who himself is present and feasts in their company, reclining on the breast of Ulysses. Boys and maidens form the choir. The leaders are Eunomus of Locri,5 Arion of Lesbos,6 Anacreon,7 and also Stesichorus8: the last mentioned I saw amongst them, having been by this time reconciled with Helen. When their songs cease, a second choir of swans, swallows, and nightingales comes forward, and as soon 102 as these grow silent, the woods join the concert to the music of the winds.
The chief aid they have to their enjoyment is the two fountains hard by the banquet, the one of Laughter, the other of Pleasure. From each of these all drink a draught at the beginning of the feast, and afterwards all is laughter and delight.
Now I wish to say something also of the illustrious men whom I saw amongst them. All the Heroes and warriors who fought against Troy were there, save Ajax of Locri. He alone of all, I heard, was suffering torment in the Place of the Damned.9
Of the barbarians I beheld the two Cyruses,10 the Scythian Anacharsis,11 the Thracian Zamolxis,12 the Roman Numa,13 the Spartan Lycurgus,14 Phocion15 and Tellus16 the Athenians, and the Seven Wise Men, except Periander.17 I saw
GATHERING.103 also Socrates idly chatting with Nestor and Palamedes.18 Gathered round him were Hyacinthus the Spartan,19 Hylas,20 Narcissus,21 and many other beautiful youths. Hyacinthus seemed his favourite — at anyrate he conversed chiefly with him. We were told that Rhadamanthus was angry with him, and had threatened to expel him from the island if he refused to abandon his ironical humour at the banquet.
Plato alone was not present: he was said to be in the Eutopia that his fancy had created, enjoying the constitution and laws which he himself had framed.
The philosophers held in greatest esteem were Aristippus, Epicurus,22 and their followers, on account of their cheerful affability and right good fellowship.
Æsop of Phrygia23 also was there, whom 104 they employ as their jester. Diogenes,24 strange to relate, had so changed his character as to marry Lais,25 and often rise and dance in his cups and play many drunken tricks.
Not one Stoic did I see.26 They were said to be still climbing the “steep ascent of virtue.” As to Chrysippus,27 we heard that he was not allowed to land on the island till he had dosed himself four times with hellebore.
The philosophers of the New Academy28 were reported as desirous of coming, but as occupied in “suspension of judgment” and “philosophic doubting.” They had not, I presume, as yet so much as “apprehended” the actual existence of such an island. They must especially have dreaded the “trial” at Rhadamanthus’ judgment-seat, as they themselves
ACHILLES.105 had destroyed belief in all standards of judgment. Many, we were informed, had set out in company with those who were journeying to the island, but owing to laziness had abandoned their enterprise, conscious of their inability for “arriving at a safe conclusion,” and turned back half-way.
These that I have mentioned were the most noticeable of the company assembled. They pay most honour to Achilles, and, after him, to Theseus.
A day or two after my arrival I approached the poet Homer, as we were both at leisure, and amongst other inquiries questioned him as to his birthplace, informing him that it is still a question for discussion amongst us. He answered that he himself was aware that men variously assign Chios, Smyrna, and 106 Colophon to him as his birthplace. As a matter of fact, however, he was a Babylonian, and, moreover, amongst the inhabitants of that city he was called not Homer but Tigranes, but having gone to Greece as a homeros, or hostage, he had changed his name. I also questioned him about the authenticity of the lines rejected as spurious, and he asserted that they were all his own. This revealed to me the pedantry of the criticisms of the grammarians of the school of Zenodotus and Aristarchus.29
Encouraged by the fulness of his answers to my questions, I inquired of him his reason for making “Wrath” the commencement of the Iliad, and he replied that it was entirely accidental.30 Further, I was anxious to know whether the composition of the Odyssey preceded that of the Iliad, according to a
HOMER.107 widely held theory. This, he answered, was not the case.
There is another rumour current about him, to the effect that he was blind; but I soon discovered the falsity of this report, for his sight was so clear that there was no need for me even to put the question.
I had several other conversations with him, on any occasion that I saw him at leisure. I would approach him and put some question to him, and he would give me willing answers to every inquiry, especially after his victory in his lawsuit. An indictment had been brought against him by Thersites on account of the jests made upon him in the Iliad. Owing to the able advocacy of Ulysses, Homer won the case.31
About the same time Pythagoras32 arrived at the island. His soul had undergone seven 108 transmigrations, and after inhabiting seven bodies had completed its cycle of life. All his right side was of gold. It was decided that he should dwell with the Blest, but there was some doubt as to whether he should be called Pythagoras or Euphorbus.
Moreover, Empedocles33 also arrived, completely cooked and roasted. However, in spite of his many entreaties, he was not admitted.
As time went on there took place the festival that is called the Thanatusia, or Feast of the Dead. The Presidents of the contests were Achilles for the fifth time and Theseus for the seventh.
It would be tedious to relate all that took place, but I will give a description of the chief events.
The wrestling-match was won by Carus,34 the
GAMES.109 descendant of Hercules, who defeated Ulysses for the crown.
The boxing-match ended in a level bout between Areus the Egyptian,35 who is buried at Corinth, and Epeus.36 For the pancratium,37 or rough-and-tumble contest, there is no prize offered.
Who won the foot-race I cannot remember.
In the poetical contest Homer in reality was far the best, yet Hesiod was declared victor.38
The prizes for the winners were wreaths woven of peacock’s feathers.
Just at the conclusion of the festival, news arrived that those who were undergoing punishment in the Place of the Damned had burst their bonds, overpowered their guards, and were sailing against the island. Their leaders were Phalaris of Agrigentum,39 Busiris the Egyptian,40 110 Diomedes the Thracian,41 and the followers of the robber chiefs Sciron and Sinis the Pine-bender.42
On the receipt of the news Rhadamanthus marshals the Heroes on the beach, under the leadership of Theseus, Achilles, and Ajax, son of Telamon, who was now of sound mind.
The rival armies met, a battle took place, and the Heroes were victorious, Achilles displaying the greatest prowess. Socrates43 also, who was stationed on the right wing, showed far greater bravery than when he fought at Delium in his lifetime. For on the approach of the enemy he did not flee, but remained facing the foe. As a special reward for his bravery on this occasion, a large and beautiful park in the suburbs was apportioned to him. There he collected his companions together and
BEAN-FEAST.111 discoursed with them, calling the place The Copse Academy.
The battle over, the Heroes collected the prisoners and sent them back in chains to undergo still greater punishments. An epic on the fight was composed by Homer, who, on my departure, gave me the books to convey to men on earth. But I subsequently lost them, together with the rest of my baggage. The opening line of the poem ran as follows: —
“Come, O Muse, and recite me the battle of Heroes in
According to their custom at the conclusion of a successful war, they proceeded to cook beans and make a great bean-fest in celebration of their victory. Pythagoras45 alone did not partake of it, but sat apart hungry, in disgust at the orgie of beans.112
After the lapse of six months, in the middle of the seventh, stranger events occurred.
Cinyras, the son of Scintharus, a fine handsome lad, had for a long time conceived a passion for Helen, who for her part was without a doubt madly in love with him. They used often to make signs to one another at the banquets, and drink each other’s health, and would get up from table by themselves and wander off alone into the wood. Urged by the distraction of his desperate love, Cinyras formed the plan of seizing Helen and running off with her. Helen also approved of the plan, and proposed that they should get away to one of the neighbouring islands, either Cork or Cheese. The pair had some time previously taken into their confidence three of the boldest of my men under a solemn pledge of secrecy. Not a word of this plot did Cinyras communicate
HELEN.113 to his father, as he knew full well the punishment that would follow. When they had fully made up their minds, they proceeded to put their plot into execution.
At nightfall, taking advantage of my absence from the banquet, the conspirators, escaping the notice of their comrades, took off Helen and got under weigh with all possible speed.
About midnight Menelaus awoke, and when he saw that his wife was not there, raised a great shout, and, in company with his brother Agamemnon, hastened to the palace of Rhadamanthus.
At daybreak the watchmen announced that they could descry the vessel a long distance out to sea. So putting fifty of the Heroes on board a ship made of a single trunk of asphodel, Rhadamanthus bade them go in 114 pursuit. Rowing stoutly, the pursuers overtook the fugitives about noon, just as they were entering the Milky Ocean near the Island of Cheese — so nearly did the lovers escape. The Heroes towed the vessel behind with a hawser of rose-leaves and sailed home again.
Helen did nothing but weep and blush and hide her face. Rhadamanthus first examined Cinyras’ men as to any accomplices in the plot, and when they declared that there were none, he sent them away to the Place of the Damned, having first scourged them with mallows.
In consequence of this occurrence the Heroes determined to expel us from the island before the expiry of our term of residence, and allowed us only one day’s respite. Thereat I was greatly grieved and shed copious tears, since
LUCIAN.115 I was about to quit so many delights and renew my wanderings. However, my friends there comforted me with the assurance that in a few years’ time I should return to them, and showed me the seat and dwelling allotted to me for the future near the noblest of the Heroes.
I approached Rhadamanthus and earnestly entreated him to inform me of what lay before me and give me an outline of my voyage. He told me that I would indeed reach my own land, but only after many wanderings and dangers. He refused to add the time of my return home, but pointed out to me the neighbouring islands, of which five were visible to the eye and a sixth lay beyond, and informed me that those hard by were the Place of the Damned.
“On them,” he added, “you can see a great 116 fire burning. The sixth yonder is the City of Dreams. Beyond that is the island of Calypso, but you cannot see it from here.
“When you have passed these, you will reach the great continent at the Antipodes. After many adventures there, and long travel through various races and sojournings among wild savage tribes, you will reach your own continent.”
Such were his words: then pulling up a root of mallow from the ground, he gave it me, bidding me in time of need call upon it. Moreover, he warned me, if ever I reached this land, never to stir the fire with a sword, or eat beans. If I bore in mind these precepts, I might have hopes of reaching the Island of the Blest after death.46
I then proceeded to make all preparations necessary for the voyage, and when the time came, feasted with the Heroes. On the next
BOUND.117 day I went to Homer and begged him to write me a couplet; and on his composing one, I inscribed it on a slab of beryl which I set up at the harbour. It ran as follows: —
“This land did Lucian, loved of Heaven, explore;
Then homeward sailed towards his native shore.”
1 On being defeated by Ulysses in the contest for the arms of Achilles, Ajax was seized by madness and began to slaughter the sheep of the Greek army, under the impression that they were his enemies.
2 Hippocrates, a famous physician of old; fl. 430 B.C.
3 Hellebore was the classical remedy for madness.
4 In her youth Helen of Troy was carried off to Athens by Theseus and his friend Pirithous, but was rescued by her brothers Castor and Pollux, and afterwards chose Menelaus out of numerous noble suitors to be her husband. The story of her subsequent abduction from Menelaus by Paris, son of Priam, and the Trojan war, is well known.
5 Eunomus, an Italian harpist from Locri.
6 Arion, the celebrated lyric poet and harpist; fl. 625 B.C.
7 Anacreon, writer of lyric love poetry; died about 478 B.C.
8 Stesichorus (of Himera in Sicily), fl. 608 B.C., was said to have been struck blind by Helen’s brothers, Castor and Pollux, for writing defamatory poetry on her. On composing a palinode or recantation he recovered his sight.
9 Ajax, son of Oileus (to be distinguished from the Ajax, son of Telamon), was shipwrecked on his return from Troy, but reached a rock in safety. As, however, he boasted that he would escape in defiance of the gods, Poseidon split the rock with his trident and drowned him.
10 Two Cyruses — i.e., Cyrus the elder, founder of the Persian Empire, and Cyrus the younger, who was killed in 401 B.C. at the battle of Cunaxa, when conspiring against his brother Artaxerxes with the aid of the Greek Ten Thousand.
11 Anacharsis, a high-born Scythian, who travelled in search of knowledge and received instruction from Solon.
12 Zamolxis, a Thracian slave of Pythagoras, who taught his master’s philosophy to his countrymen.
13 Numa, the second King of Rome, and the reputed author of much of her primitive law and religion.
14 Lycurgus, the founder of the Spartan constitution.
15 Phocion, the leader of the peace party at Athens, and the chief opponent of Demosthenes.
16 Tellus lived and died on behalf on his country.
17 The Seven Sages of Greece were Thales, Bias, Pittacus, Solon, Cleobulus, Chilon, Periander. The last named was Tyrant of Corinth, and forfeited his place in Elysium by the oppressive government of his later years.
18 Palamedes, one of the Greek heroes who fought against Troy, was falsely accused of treachery and stoned to death.
19 Hyacinthus, a beautiful youth of mythology, killed accidentally by Apollo with a quoit. From his blood sprang the flower.
20 Hylas, Hercules’ page; drawn by nymphs into a well.
21 Narcissus pined away from love of his own reflection and faded into the flower.
22 Epicurus and Aristippus were founders of two sensual schools of philosophy, the Epicurean and the Cyreniac.
23 Æsop, the writer of fables.
24 Diogenes, the Cynic, whose habitation on earth was a tub.
25 Lais, “the celebrated courtesan of Corinth, really lived with Aristippus, for whom Lucian substitutes Diogenes, the founder of the Cynic or opposite school” (Jerram).
26 The Stoics compared a life of virtue to the ascent of a steep hill.
27 Chrysippus, the greatest of the Stoics, in his ‘Vitarum Auctor’ asserted that no man could be a philosopher who had not drunk thrice of hellebore, the antidote of madness.
28 The philosophers of the New Academy disbelieved in the judgment of the senses, and so, holding that was no criterion or standard of truth, kept their judgment in suspense, and could never reach a definite conclusion.
29 Zenodotus and Aristarchus were Alexandrine editors of Homer, and in making recensions of the text rejected and omitted several passages as spurious.
30 The ‘Iliad’ begins with the line, “Of the wrath of Achilles, sing, O Muse!” Lucian laughs at a certain pedantic school of criticism that pretended to discover mysterious and hidden meanings in every word.
31 In the ‘Iliad’ Ulysses is represented as wily and glib of tongue.
32 Pythagoras believed in the theory of transmigration, and asserted that his own soul had inhabited the bodies of five men, of whom Euphorbus the Trojan was one. He was said to have had a golden thigh.
33 Empedocles, a philosopher of Agrigentum (about 444 B.C.), who was probably refused admittance on account of his sceptical opinions, met his death by falling into the crater of Etna.
34 Carus, unknown, and possibly invented by Lucian.
35 Areus, an Alexandrine philosopher.
36 Epeus was the winner of the boxing-match at the funeral games of Patroclus, as recorded by Homer, ‘Iliad,’ bk. xxiii., l. 64.
37 The pancratium included wrestling and boxing.
38 Plutarch mentions a contest between Homer and Hesiod, in which the latter won unfairly.
39 Phalaris, the notorious Tyrant of Agrigentum, proverbial for his cruelty. His favourite mode of inflicting torture was roasting men alive in a brazen bull.
40 Busiris, an Egyptian king who sacrificed strangers to Zeus: he was killed by Hercules.
41 Diomedes, a king of a Thracian tribe, used to feed his mares on human flesh: also slain by Hercules.
42 Sciron, a Greek robber: as also Sinis, nick-named Pityocamptes = Pine-bender.
43 Socrates fought at the battle of Delium, B.C. 424, and, when the Athenians were routed and fled in disorder, retreated quietly and steadily, “calmly surveying friends and foes.” On this occasion his superior courage was shown by not retreating at all.
44 A parody of ‘Odyssey,’ bk. i. l. 1.
45 Pythagoras, for some unknown reason (it is said, because he believed the souls of the dead to inhabit beans), refused to eat this vegetable, though a vegetarian.
46 Mr Collins (‘Lucian,’ “Ancient Classics Series”) cites an old oath taken by travellers at Highgate, “not to stir the fire with a sword nor kiss a woman over two-and-twenty.”